Mark Smith’s Newsletter - Saturday 20th March, 2021
NFTs, Substack, Eth51%Attack, NetlifyDevEnvs, Prediction Markets, EDMGirls, NBAMoney, PortableOffice, IoT, TikTok, Wikipedia, IntelChips, DApps, Slack Websockets, Ghost, pods, artists & musicians
Hello and welcome to my newsletter!
Another season 2 instalment…
It’s ended up being quite a long one this week, so you might want to get a cup of tea or coffee, or perhaps dip into it on and off throughout the week…whatever floats your boat.
There was a lot of great stuff this week, from all sorts of nooks and crannies, large and small, from all around the web. There are some themes and through lines, but I admit that things didn’t start to solidify and settle into something until quite late in the process, so there might be some rough edges and inconsistencies.
Life is like that sometimes, two steps forward, one step backwards, one step forward, two steps backwards, blockages, getting unstuck. Keep calm and carry on.
I would normally have this in the special mentions section, but it’s more than worthy to be hoisted right to the top of the newsletter. Tim Sweeney from Beats in Space (BIS) is taking the show on hiatus after 21 years running on New York’s WNYU radio station every Tuesday evening. Just a phenomenal achievement. I somewhat randomly jumped on his music happy bus for the special edition episode #1000 while travelling through Loas and was immediately blown away by the worldwide community of folks, from all different backgrounds and walks of life, all sharing a love for electronic music. I was moved by some of his final words, “week in week out, it’s been my life”.
Though the my weekly newsletter is only at edition #0017, I’ve been running the daily linkblog for close to 10 years, so that struck a chord with me. It was kind of an abrupt ending to BIS, but that’s often how it unfolds in clubland, so felt strangely appropriate.
Tim I wish you all the best, whatever you do next, your show helped me pick my down beaten soul off the floor on many occasion, when life just didn’t seem doable, I’ll be headphoning up to listen to whatever marvellous mixes, artist interviews and sets you put out in the future, heading out for a stroll wherever I might be, and into the floaty virtual soundscape fun world that is Beats in Space.
The good news is there is a massive back catalogue of shows to get into, perfect for your workout, your late night coding session, your temporary audio holiday from the crazy fast paced world we inhabit.
And now, on with the newsletter main event…this week there were two major story themes, NFTs and Apple’s Anti-Tracking push.
On the NFT front, there were more stories following on from the past three newsletters, people were thinking and commenting on what NFTs mean as far as ownership, some scams surfaced with NFT minting without artist permission, and people noticed that the metadata urls in NFTs are not very robust and could potentially affect their value in the future. Related Etherium technologies are getting some coverage, like this article about Prediction Markets.
As for Apple’s anti-tracking, Tik Tok and others have been trying to find other ways to track users on iOS, and that culminated in Apple sending out a bunch of cease and desist letters in an attempt to enforce the new rules. So lots of movement and happenings in the Ad Tech space. There was a very relevant podcast discussion about the major trends in the Ad Tech space by Benedict Evans and Toni Cowan-Brown, worth a listen to get a better picture of what’s going on in Ad Tech. The topic sounds a bit boring but it’s actually surprisingly interesting and very nuanced, it affects a huge amount of things that are on the web.
There were a few other themes worth mentioning. Several stories about non-profit business models, with Wikipedia releasing an enterprise product, aiming to finally get paid by all the companies that derive value from them, a fascinating podcast interview with Quincy Larson from freeCodeCamp that publish coding learning resources accessible by all, and Github wrote about the lessons developers should take away from the recent trend of open source projects changing their license. The tech scene can seem at times to be focussed only on profit, so it’s refreshing to see some projects that take a different approach.
There were also some stories about chips with a new product announcement from Intel, commentary from John Gruber on their ad campaign, and an announcement of a global chip shortage by Samsung that is expected to have a big impact later in the year.
The creator space has been very active over the past few weeks, with Square acquiring Tidal and announcing a grand vision of creators running their own businesses, and new tools being developed to make that reality possible. With that backdrop it was big news that YouTube announced their Shorts product is being released in the US, it’s a direct competitor clone of Tik Tok. Popular NodeJS Blogging platform Ghost released v4.0, I asked the project lead John O’Nolan what he thought about Jamstack websites. Feels like some friction, but I think Ghost / Wordpress sites could do amazing things if combined with statically generated sites, specifically around content creation collaboration. Big websites like Mozilla MDN docs are already moving in that direction for this exact reason.
And asif that wasn’t enough, there’s plenty more awesome non-news stuff too…
With all this talk about Etherium, NFTs and Prediction Markets, I felt it was high time to roll up our sleeves, find where the rubber hits the road so we can more easily separate fact from wishy washy fiction. I have nothing against fiction, it plays it’s part, it’s fun, you discover new paths and with an open mind that can lead to unexpected places, but at some point you just got to build something. So there’s a comprehensive tutorial on building a voting DApp on the Etherium blockchain. A DApp is a distributed application built on the Etherium blockchain. It’s surprisingly straight forward to implement in NodeJS.
I got a bit curious about building IoT devices, simple internet connected hardware. I’ve previously written an MVP IoT NodeJS app for collecting real-time data from a fleet of devices, but never deployed a client to hardware. Buildroot is fully featured, but complex, and Unitkraft making unikernels that do one thing and do it well, securely and fast. Both are open source and worth investigating if you are contemplating building some hardware. NodeJS is super well suited for these type of network based devices.
Jamstack continues to make headways into web development, with popular Wordpress managed hosting provider releasing WP Engine Goes ‘Headless’.
But wait there is more!
Writeups from Netlify engineering about shipping Node.js and a look into their process and developer environments, and another about the tough decisions that you have to make while evaluating IoT platforms in this case Ubuntu Core, and finally an excellent writeup of the Slack engineering team of the migration of their websockets implementation from HAProxy to Envoy Proxy. I don’t know about you, but I’m loving these in depth writeups from engineering teams.
Few! this edition has gotten quite long. If your still with me reading, thanks I appreciate it.
Last week I promised a writeup of the Reddit Account Saga I had been experiencing, it’s solved, sort of…but I’m still waiting for a reply from them, I’m not holding by breath. Expect something next week about how it’s taken 4 months to unblock my account because of a ‘routine’ event that happen in their system.
I’ve been considering variations I could do with the newsletter to keep things fresh. One idea is to have guests on that would take over the newswaves for a day, or a week, so you’d get a flavour of their world. I’m compiling a wish list of stand-ins, if you have any specific people you think might fit well, contact me with a short description of why you think they would be a good fit. I’ve also been considering starting a podcast to discuss some of these topics, which would be cool but I think is a ways off, my focus at the minute is on finding some interesting freelance web development work, hence the stand-in roster for when that happens.
Another idea I had was to collaborate with some artists, maybe musicians, the idea would be to create some artwork and / or music that had the general flavour of the newsletter, and include it to make things a bit experimental and unique each week. Since I post every day, you could have something ready for each release, and we could mint it into some limited edition NFTs and even have some fancy smart contract that shared resale royalties. If that floats your boat at all then contact me :)
I’ll finish with a worry, probably overblown, about the NodeJS modules system. When I started back in 2014 it was one of the main reasons I switched from Java to NodeJS. Need a module, just npm it! Well according to other backend languages this part of NodeJS is being touted as a reason to move to other backend languages. I think it stems from recent introduction of ES Modules (ESM) in browsers, the NodeJS devs have had a lot of trouble supporting both systems, and they have done a tremendous job, but it’s now seen by some in the wider programming community as too complex. That’s the gist I got from recent conversations on Indie Hackers and from discussions on the Shop Talk Podcast Ep #454 interview with Evan View (View, Vite). Something to be aware of. Let’s hope the wider web development community gives us a bit of understanding, leeway and some help to find a way through, rather than a knock on the head.
As usual all the articles from the linkblog in chronological order are included below, which is also a good way to explore, there are some pieces there amongst the main summary items that didn’t make it into the main themes, but these are often interesting in their own right, and often end up developing into something more substantial further down the line.
Ok that’s me done for this week, time for another coffee…
I hope you enjoy the links!
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Stuff from me
🚀 Housekeeping Note: I’ve updated the blog RSS feed to not include newsletter posts, and I’ve also updated all newsletter posts to include the signup form so it’s easy to subscribe to the newsletter markjgsmith.com #
🚀 I had an interesting discussion on IH around backend languages, I think the difficulties with the NodeJS implementation of ESM might start to become a thorn, and to think that package management was one of NodeJS’s greatest features when I started on the platform back in 2014, it’s tough to have to support both client and server module systems, I hope we can find a way through indiehackers.com #
Stuff from around the web
The NFT Craze Offers Easy Money - And Hard Copyright Questions - There are already examples occurring where 3rd parties are minting NFTs from artists content without their knowledge, I’m surprised that these NFTs are even valuable, I would have thought the artist would have to at least publicly mention creating the NFTs, like on their blog for example, before they would be sellable decrypt.co #
Shipping Node.js at Netlify - Great writeup of the developer environments and automation in place at Netlify, they make extensive use of GitHub Actions, project/issues/PR templates, labels, commit message prefixes, and tools to handle dependency management, code coverage, testing, formatting, linting, and release netlify.com #
The Evolving Landscape of Prediction Markets - I’ve heard the term prediction markets mentioned quite a lot recently in conversations about NFTs, it’s another area where the Etherium blockchain is being used extensively, but the core idea is much older, there isn’t a huge amount of detail in this article but it’s a good intro to the space hackernoon.com #
Why we Decided for and Against Ubuntu Core - Interesting if you are at all curious about building hardware (IoT, Raspberry Pi), there are clearly a lot of unsolved problems in the space, quite a lot of potholes, dead ends, and perhaps even snake oil nitrokey.com #
TikTok wants to keep tracking iPhone users with state-backed workaround - Apple will be introducing it’s new privacy feature in the next few weeks which will stop IDFA based tracking, there is a lot at stake since many companies rely on the tracking feature for targeted advertising, feels like it could be quite a major shift in the web with many unexpected consequences arstechnica.com #
Wikipedia Is Finally Asking Big Tech to Pay Up - It is starting an commercial Enterprise version of Wikipedia, I have mixed feelings, I worry that such an amazing resource could be splintered in two, couldn’t Big Tech just contribute meaningfully to the original project?, how will they make sure the original Wikipedia doesn’t wither, but there are arguments on both sides, maybe the separation is a good way to shield the original project, anyway it will be interesting to watch how it goes, let’s hope they are transparent about the operation and willing to keep an open mind, the reality is that commercial organisations are a big part of society, good luck Wikipedia! wired.com #
Re-post (2020-03-21): Wikimedia has decided to move ahead adopting Vue.js as their frontend framework - These are the folks behind internet giant Wikipedia, so it's a pretty big deal as far as web development goes, firstly because as great as Wikipedia is, they use quite an antiquated tech stack, so moving their website towards something more modern is going to be interesting to watch, but also because they chose Vue over React with some pretty good reasoning in my opinion markjgsmith.com #
Intel’s 11th Gen desktop chips are here with faster speeds but fewer cores - I don’t claim to be super knowledgeable about chips, but the chip space is pretty hot at the minute with Apple shaking things up with the M1, so new Intel products are of interest, it’s the old chip crossed with the new chip, it’s a downgrade, but actually it’s an upgrade, it’s a totally new chip design, it’s for Desktop; no doubt it will be popular with the gaming bods that understand this better, but for the rest of us this transition looks kind of complicated theverge.com #
Buildroot is a simple, efficient and easy-to-use tool to generate embedded Linux systems through cross-compilation - Appears to be popular for creating hardware products that run embedded Linux buildroot.org #
Unikraft - Build tools for creating specialised unikernels, could be used to run a very streamlined NodeJS runtime using QuickJS, for fast startup times and added security, which might be useful on some simple network based IoT projects unikraft.org #
Issues are being raised about how the meta data in NFTs are being stored, looks like the URLs of the artworks that get included aren’t very robust and could break quite easily if any of the provider / hosting / gateway companies go out of business twitter.com #
The Ultimate Ethereum Dapp Tutorial - How to Build a Full Stack Decentralized Application Step-By-Step - It’s relatively straight forward, the app actually is very similar to a web application, the main difference is that the handling code, called the smart contract, is executed when an etherium transaction is made rather than when a web http request is received, it’s still a bit unclear to me how all the pieces of such an app are deployed in a production scenario, but I can see how to build a basic proof of concept test app dappuniversity.com #
Audacity 3.0.0 Released - Of interest to anybody that edits audio, the latest version has quite a major architectural change, projects are now stored in one file rather than a bunch of files, the new implementation uses the open source database SQLite3 audacityteam.org #
Migrating Millions of Concurrent Websockets to Envoy - Great writeup from the Slack engineering team of their migration from HAProxy to Envoy Proxy, web sockets are amazing for anything real-time but there is added complexity because of the constant data moving in both directions, that makes debugging more difficult than REST APIs, their migration took several months but it was transparent to users, which is quite an achievement, especially because of the scale of their operation slack.engineering #
Another Podcast Podcast - Trying to understand Ad Tech - “Two people that don’t know much about Ad Tech, talking about Ad Tech” - Though they don’t have direct experience working in that sector, Benedict and Toni do actually know quite a lot about Ad Tech, mostly from an end user perspective, and that’s what makes their conversation interesting - Their backgrounds in politics and other areas of tech make for an insightful episode that covers the complexity of the current system, the relative obscurity of the tech that is used, the move towards privacy and removing 3rd party cookies, the moral issues worth considering, tracking on-device vs on servers, what is likely to happen when the new technologies are introduced and how they will impact many of the online services we all rely on - Worth listening to if your work is touched in any way by online advertising, or if you are an end user interested in becoming aware of some of the major forces that influence the world wide web simplecast.com #
Source Code Podcast - Hackers, trustbusters, and internet librarians - Particularly good episode this week covering the recent hacking of many small businesses, political appointments in the US and their effects in Tech, and a piece about the relevance of the Internet Archive in the modern web simplecast.com #
Changelog Podcast - Leading a non-profit unicorn - Interview with Quincy Larson, wide ranging discussion starting with their philosophy of access to all, no matter sociology-economic status, or access to the financial system, with free as a core value, then the specifics of the platform that offers web development and now data science courses, and also covering their relationship with competing paid for online training, the move to a platform that is like a game but for adult learning, a recent push to create multi-language courses, with interesting git workflows enabling international collaboration, their organisation through facilitation rather than control, being wary of unrealistic deadlines and rushing which creates unnecessary compromises, working in parallel without blocking each other, and fund raising to build a robust, grassroots and impactful business model for the long term - It’s a refreshing take on building online resources, with a focus on access rather than profit, there’s a healthy amount of early web optimism in their approach which I like a lot changelog.com #
Shop Talk Podcast Ep #454 - All About Vite with Evan You - A conversation around the latest developments in frontend tooling trends, there has been a shift in the past year or so to use ES modules in development and only bundle for production, it’s generally a very informative episode as Evan is super knowledgeable in this space because of both the Vite and Vue projects - One thing that really stood out for me was their discussion of the recent community and development issues in NodeJS supporting ES Modules (22:48), it’s not a problem facing most developers but I get the sense it could be a bigger deal than some are anticipating, the entire episode is a good listen shoptalkshow.com #
Thanks for reading!
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Have a great weekend and a fantastic next week!